Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Politically Correct Sportsware at Marquette

From the Journal-Sentinel:
Marquette University has severed ties with Russell Athletic, making it the latest in a string of universities to end its contract with the manufacturer after the firm may have suppressed an effort by factory workers in Honduras to unionize.

United Students Against Sweatshops, a national network of student organizers, posted an item on Twitter saying that Marquette is the 28th university to cut ties with the Atlanta-based clothing maker. The group estimates on its web site that its campaign against Russell has resulted in this company losing more than $5 million in collegiate business.

Marquette directed the Collegiate Licensing Company, a licensing agency that works with more than 200 universities, to terminate Russell’s Marquette licensing agreement in February of this year, university spokeswoman Brigid Miller said.

Miller said Marquette doesn’t disclose its reasons for taking contractual action with parties.
A commenter responding to this article presented the other side.
I work with Russell, and I’d like to respond to the false accusation that we closed this plant because it was unionized. We had already recognized this plant’s union status for more than a year before announcing the closure. The Fair Labor Association, as well as an independent report it commissioned both agreed: it was necessary for us to close one of our three plants in Honduras because of the global economic slowdown. The independent report also confirmed the two reasons why we chose this plant in particular: 1) The need for products sewn there was lower than any of our other factories in Honduras. And 2) it was the only one with a lease we could vacate immediately, which saved us $2 million. No one has ever refuted any of these economic factors.

Once people see all the facts in this case, they come to a different conclusion. Princeton University, for example, recently decided to continue its merchandising relationship with Russell Athletic. In an article in the Daily Princetonian, Princeton Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee said the University relies on the FLA for monitoring, and he was not convinced that anti-union sentiment motivated the closure of Russell’s Honduras plant. “The decision to close this factory was driven by economic conditions,” he said.

Russell had recognized the union at that plant on October 3, 2007, months before the global slowdown began. A separate report commissioned by the FLA found that management and the union actually had a “cooperative rapport.”

All told the recession has forced several companies to close 25 plants in Honduras. We’ve closed nine plants in Central America because of the economic slowdown, and this was the only one that was unionized. As the FLA noted in its report: “If the primary motive of the company had been to frustrate the union, it could have closed JDH earlier and even switched production from Honduras to Mexico.”
An AP article, cited in the Journal-Sentinel story, gives more information.

It appears that managers at the plant did fire 145 pro-union activist workers, an action the company says was a “mistake.” No Russell Athletic spokesperson was immediately available to comment.

This whole issue reeks of the same kind of self-righteous priggishness as the whole “fair trade” movement. At a time when U.S. automakers are trying (at massive taxpayer expense) to recover from the damage that unions have done to the industry, college activists are trying to impose the same sort of thing on poor third-world countries that badly need jobs.

We are talking here about the same sort of people who oppose NAFTA and CAFTA and free trade generally. Yet free trade will do vastly more to help poor people in the third world than all the smug latte-sipping liberal yuppies (and future yuppies in the Marquette student body) in the world.

However, it’s not just misguided idealism. The activists know that a strong union movement has the effect of taxing workers and using the money to promote a broad leftist political agenda that many (and often most) of the workers disagree with. But the workers, if the activists have their way, have no choice.

But interestingly, there has been little if any student activism at Marquette on this issue. It appears, at the moment, that politically correct administrators took the initiative. Marquette has sided with the (apparently) 27 other schools who have joined the boycott, and not the hundreds of institutions that have not.


Anonymous Robin Smith said...

good grief, the free market doesn't exist, everyone, even economists accept that, it's a goal out of reach. The third world doesn't exist either - it was banned 15 years ago when workers organized their own businesses, built their own schools and communities and kicked out the middlemen. In my travels in Africa and Latin America and Asia, i have never seen a union, just a whole bunch of self determined people digging themselves out of poverty and very proud to call their new economic engine Fair Trade. It's idiots who are bringing the world economy to its knees, not the people who are building a sustainable economy.

2:43 PM  

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